Shoot Loose Crop Tight Part 2 


If you missed part 1 of this mini-series it can be found here. In part 2 I will be looking at the following topics

  • The artistic and technical reasons to a re-crop a picture
  • The Lightroom Crop Tool
  • Shoot Loose Crop Tight
  • Good Crop Bad Crop
  • Shoot Tight Crop Tighter


Reasons to a re-crop a picture

Cropping is the act of redefining your vision for a picture which may or may not be intentional at the time of taking. The creative process is not a straight line of cause and effect we can all change our mind however decisive we may feel at the time.

The job of recropping a picture is to make the message clearer. The picture has already been cropped once in-camera through the abstraction process (choosing the direction to point the camera).


The reasons to re-crop a digital picture may be either artistic or technical.  Artistic reasons to re-crop a picture:

  • This may be to improve the composition or visual balance,
  • Make the main subject matter more dominant within the frame,
  • Remove distractions on the picture edges,
  • Create a sense of tension
  • Change the aspect ratio from 3:2 to 4:3 for example.


All of these artistic reasons to re-crop a picture is based on perception and judgement for those who have eyes to see. If you cannot see a problem how are you going to fix it?

Technical reasons to re-crop a picture

  • Level up the horizon
  • Change the orientation from landscape to portrait. (With the Lightroom Crop Tool open hit X on the keyboard)
The Lightroom Crop Tool 

The Lightroom Crop Tool is very powerful when used in combination with the Transform Tool. In the example below the Transform Tool has been used to correct the Converging Verticals with the Vertical adjustment slider.

My Top 5 Crop Tool Hot Hints

1 Keep the Crop Lock ON – for consistency of picture shape

2 Use the Auto Angle Tool – automatically corrects wonky horizons

3 Create Custom Aspect Ratios – I created a 6:17 aspect ratio to mimick the Hasselblad X Pan letterbox look (see below – Brighton Promenade)

4 With the Crop Tool open hit the O key to cycle through the Crop Overlay Guides

5 With the Crop Tool open hit Shift + O key to cycle through the Crop Overlay Guide orientation

Middleport Stoke on Trent April 2019. Diagonal lines do not have to line-up perfectly with the overlay guide. The Overlay guides are only a suggestion.

For more on my way with the Lightroom Crop Tool see The Dark Art

Shoot Loose Crop Tight

Man Ray the American Surrealist Photographer in the 1920 & ’30s had a taking technique of shooting loose and cropping tight in the darkroom. He was using large glass plate negatives so could afford to change his mind at the printing stage.

The digital equivalent of Man Ray’s technique was discussed in part 1 of this series

Brighton Promenade 2007 Sigma 12-24mm 1/30s f22 ISO 50

(X Pan 6:17 Crop)

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages to shoot loose and crop tight


1 Quicker reaction time, no need to spend time accurately framing

2 Take in the general environment and decide later how much to include or exclude

3 Allows for serendipity to play a part

4 Allows for Auto ISO and Shutter Priority to freeze movement in good light

5 Allows for Zone Focusing


1 Distractions may be captured that are difficult to remove in post-processing

2 The viewpoint was not optimal

3 None

4 Requires informed choices for ISO, Max and Min Shutter speeds

5 The camera is in charge of where it thinks you want to focus, not the photographer. (Your cameras focusing system cannot read your mind).

Good Crop Bad Crop

I stated above the artistic and technical reason to re-crop a picture. The aim of re-cropping is to make the visual message stronger, not weaker. The final crop may be a balance of compromises in the end.

In these three examples crops from the same frame. Left – the original as taken, Centre – my preferred crop Right – a bad crop.

Shoot Tight Crop Tighter

When shooting tight and cropping even tighter it is paramount to still retain the essence of the attraction. The viewer must still be able to recognise the dominant subject matter, if that is what is intended. If you think the viewer will say “what is it?” it time to think again.


Below – Bath Abbey Courtyard February 2013

Above – Camerton Court August 2014

When in the process of cropping a picture in Lightroom it can be useful to make a number of Virtual Copies (Ctrl/Cmd + ‘). Each Virtual Copy is used to record the different composition possibilities available from the file. If you have the opportunity to leave the final decision to the next day or later that will help your judgement.

Shoot tight crop tighter – Gorilla Bristol Zoo. Samyang 300mm f6.3 Mirror Lens – June 2018

Easy Ways To Improve Seeing & Cropping Skills 

In my book The ABC of CameraWork Manual I suggested ways to improve composition in-camera and cropping skills in the post-processing workflow. Firstly use a telephoto lens and zoom out from the subject matter. The usually accepted method is to zoom in and stop when the composition is balanced and distractions at the frame edges have been eliminated from the picture. By zooming out you are looking for the minimum amount of information that conveys the subject. In the first instance I suggest trying it on static subjects.


“Composition is the art of leaving things out”

Andy Beel

The use of a telephoto lens helps the photographer decide where the picture is by excluding some of the many options for a short time. Some photographers who have difficulty seeing a picture may see everything and nothing, there is too much to choose from. By zooming out instead of zooming in there is a far better chance that a minimal approach is achieved.



In part 1 of this series, I asked: “how many pixels do I actually need?”  Your camera is capable of more enough pixels to allow for many a judicious crop for internet usage. All modern camera will make files easily big enough to make A3 size prints at 240 dpi. For prints bigger than A3 some interpolation may be required. Lightroom will automatically make your file bigger if required, Photoshop will ask you what you want to do and give you choices.


In part 2 we have looked at the artistic and technical reasons to re-crop a picture. These artistic reasons were to:

  • Strengthen the composition or visual balance
  • Make the main subject matter more dominant within the frame
  • Remove distractions on the picture edges
  • Create a sense of tension
  • Change the aspect ratio from 3:2 to 4:3 for example


The technical reasons

  • Level up the horizon
  • Change the orientation from landscape to portrait


I hope you found this mini series useful please leave a comment.